CHARLOTTE – The Charlotte Bobcats will have to find a way to stop LeBron James if they hope to win their first playoffs game in franchise history.
That’s something they’ve yet to figure out.
Miami is 15-0 against the Bobcats since James signed with the Heat as a free agent in 2010. Charlotte, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, will play the second-seeded Heat in a best-of-seven series that begins Sunday in Miami.
James is averaging a whopping 37.7 points per game in four outings against the Bobcats this season, buoyed by a career-high 61-point effort on March 3.
Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker called James “one of the best players in the world” and said it will take a total team effort to shut him down and help the Bobcats win.
“We have to make sure there are five guys in front of him at all times,” Walker said.
Sometimes even that doesn’t help.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, selected as the NBA’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month on Thursday, wasn’t upset the night the Bobcats allowed James to pile up 61 points on 22-of-32 shooting. Clifford’s strategy coming into the game was to clog the lane and force James to beat them from the outside, a game plan his players executed fairly well.
The problem was James was hot, knocking down 8-of-10 three-pointers.
Given Miami’s overwhelming playoffs experience and superior talent, it will hard to find anyone picking an upset in this series. But that hardly means a thing to the Bobcats, who have thrived in the underdog role all season.
“They didn’t give us a chance in November, if you remember,” Charlotte’s Al Jefferson said. “... It’s not time to fold now. It’s time to take it to another level. We reached our goal, and regardless of what happens in the playoffs we are one of the teams that has stood out this year, and we’re proud of that. But we want more.”
Walker said nobody is invincible — not even James and the Heat.
“Anybody can be beat,” Walker said. “I’m confident in my team. We definitely don’t expect to lose like everyone else expects us to lose.”
The Bobcats clearly have a monumental task ahead of them.
To put things in perspective, the two-time defending NBA champion Heat won more playoffs games (32) the previous two seasons than the Bobcats won regular season games (28) in that span.
Henderson was the only player on the Charlotte roster the last time the Bobcats made in the playoffs in 2010, when they were swept by Orlando. But he said he would rather be playing the Heat right now than packing up his locker.
“You don’t want to be going to the Bahamas right now,” Henderson said. “Hey, the Bahamas is great, but you’d rather be competing against the best players in the world. That’s what we do this for. So it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Bobcats do have some things going for them.
They’ve won eight of their past nine games, including a 91-86 overtime victory against Chicago to close the regular season.
They have been competitive against the Heat for the most part, too.
Other than James’ big game, which Miami won going away, the Bobcats have taken the Heat to the wire losing three games by a combined 13 points.
And then there’s Jefferson, who has proven to be one of the tougher low post players in the league and is drawing All-NBA team consideration after averaging 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season.
Jefferson re-injured his knee Wednesday night against Chicago but was able to return and play the fourth quarter. He said the knee won’t limit him in the postseason.
“Miami is a great defensive-minded team,” Jefferson said. “They step up and adjust to whatever they have to. So I’m not going to sit here and think this will be a walk in the park facing them. They play great team defense and I know they will have some sort of a plan for me.”